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Why the ‘B’ in ‘Black’ Is Capitalized at DiversityInc

Question:Ask the White Guy Luke Visconti
Could you explain why the “b” in “black Americans” is not capitalized? I’ve noticed that other ethnic groups all are capitalized. But not Black people. Why is this?

Answer:
Most mainstream print publications in the United States use what is known as “AP style,” or the style dictated by The Associated Press Stylebook. This book and web site describe what to capitalize and what not to capitalize (among other rules of grammar).

To find companies that value Black employees, read The DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for Blacks List. You can also search for jobs on DiversityInc.com’s Career Center from companies on that list: AT&T, Target and Altria.

I made the decision not to follow AP style in the case of “Black” and “white” when it applies to describing people. AP style is to capitalize neither; however, terms such as African American, Negro, Caucasian, Italian American or Asian are all capitalized.

Regardless of whether there is adequate representation among the decision makers at the AP, I felt DiversityInc needed to be more accurate.

The word “Black” is used around the world to describe people who have “racial” features indicating African ancestry. Please keep in mind that the convention of race has been discarded by science–genetically, we are all one race, and the human-genome project proves we are all from Africa.

“Black” is also accepted by many Black people as an inoffensive description. It is a generalized description and can be supplemented by another description such as Black Canadian, Black African American, Nigerian American or Black Latino. However, many Black people describe themselves simply as being “Black,” and this reality is reflected in a body of literature, music and academic study.

I do not believe “white” needs to be capitalized because people in the white majority don’t think of themselves in that way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this–it’s just how it is. The exception is white supremacists who have a definite vision for what “white” means. Most American white people describe themselves in more defined terms, such as Irish American or Jewish. I will make the point that African Americans (descendents of slaves) cannot define themselves more accurately than an entire continent because their ancestry was obliterated by the practices of enslavers, which included breaking apart tribal and family bonds.

I don’t think there will ever be a time in our country where “white” becomes “White.” Nor do I think white people will accept the term “minority” when we become less than 50 percent of our population by roughly 2045. I think that’s a good thing–people should be allowed to describe themselves, not have descriptions forced on them. I also think that the term “minority” is a pejorative and has no place in describing people.

Our capitalization of “Black” is both a reflection of reality and of respect. Opinions will differ on this, but as long as I make the decisions on editorial policy and content at DiversityInc, this is how this publication will write “Black” and “white.”

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

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72 Comments

  • Anonymous

    Ahh,the acid and hate-filled racism of the “anti-racists.”

    It is amusing to see the rhetorical pretzel the author twists himself into to explain this openly-discriminatory practice.

    • It’s even more educational to explain concepts of white privilege and why a person, of any color or ethnic background, could still express ignorance with such sheer delight as demonstrated by your comment. There is nothing funny about taking a stand in the face of long-standing oppression and hate. Kudos Mr. Visconti and Diversity Inc. for taking a bold first step that will, no doubt, lead to a continued dialogue on a very poignant topic.

      • Is the “white privilege” fable what you cling to at night to console yourself with what a nobody loser you are?

        “The reason I’m not as rich as Mitt Romney is because white people are secretly conspiring, in cigar smoke-filled rooms, to hold me back!”

        • Luke Visconti

          Considering your email and IP address, it looks like they held you back too. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Anonymous

    I am concluding my thesis on neighborhood racial diversity and wealth inequality, and I have been trying to find a reasonable use of the titles “black” and “white.” The study also has the pan-ethnic groups of Asian and Hispanic, which are all limited as such by the census survey. Asians and Hispanics are just as likely to, as you say, “describe themselves in more defined terms” especially since Japanese and Koreans have very little in common with Filipinos and Indians….etc.

    For this reason I have “upgraded” the lower case of “white” and “black” since we use them to do the exact same thing when we classify someone as “Asian” or “Hispanic.” They are all broad categories and no group should be shown more “respect” through capitalization than another.

    I am confused at why you think Whites deserve special treatment to not be capitalized because they are not really tangible group. No group is tangible, the diversity within is so great. In fact, in terms of demographic data (wealth, income, housing, etc etc etc), Whites tend to be the most similar to each-other out of all the groups (Asians being least similar). I think the poster before me touched on it. Only Whites can choose whether or not to be placed in a categorical context. By keeping Whites as lower-case and the others not, it really exposes that power of “we’ll we’re not the same but you all are.”

  • Anonymous

    Capitalize names of races (African American, Caucasian, Asian, Native American), but do not capitalize “black” or “white” when referring to race.

  • I totally agree with you–this is a pretzel twist of an explanation. But isn’t that what diversity training and management is all about. Why do we need diversity training–how about humanity training. Teach people to see each other’s commonalities. Instead diversity training presupposes that there are white people and then there are diverse people. True diversity does not need something to define itself in opposition to. Liberal whites kill me, The reality is you benefit from a biased system from the start. Then suddenly you decide to monetize what u c as a deficiency by unleashing diversity management on the unsuspecting world and expect “diverse” people to be grateful that you capitalize the B in black and give a few bucks to some quote unquote “minority” organizations. Gimme a break. Jan

  • I am a Black man and I agree with Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc, on his decision to capitalize the word Black when referring to Black Americans. Most white Americans must realize that Black people have been labeled different names throughout our enslavement. Although, our history DID NOT begin with slavery (we were enslaved), but we have gone from being called, boy, n-word, colored, negro, Afro Americans, African Americans, Black and now minorities.

    I refuse to be labeled a minority because a minority is a code word which means MINOR. We all know that a minor is not yet a man or woman; they are still considered children, not adults. Therefore, this word has nothing to do with a race people. It is used to classify Black American adults as children.

    The very word America is a code word for white people. When a Black man commits a crime, his picture is all over the media. A perfect example is the Nigerian man who had explosives on a plane that was landing at Detroit Metro Airport (December 26, 2010). His picture was all over the news media. But, the drunk white male who was trying to open up a door while a plane was in flight was labeled a ‘man’ (February 18, 2010). The captioned read, “man tries to open plane door while in flight.”

    This was also an act of terrorism because lives could have been lost if he had succeeded to open that door. A terrorist is a person that commits bodily harm or injury to another human being. But, he was labeled a ‘man’ and his picture or his name was not shown on television, like the Nigerian’s picture that was captured at Detroit Metro Airport. Since this incident, this ‘man’ that tried to open up the door on that plane has been released with no charges!

    Another incident that happened in Texas where a ‘man’ crashed his plane into an IRS building (February 18, 2010). He was not labeled a terrorist, but was called furious and angry! Tim McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma (April 19, 1995). He was not labeled a terrorist, but was only called a ‘serial killer.’ His headline captioned read, “man blows up federal building.”

    These are just a few examples how the code word ‘man’ is used to describe white males that commit terrorist crimes. If they were Black, they would have been called terrorists immediately and no excuses would have been made for their violent, terrorist acts.

    If we are all Americans why is the word Black used, without adding American? Why aren’t white Americans labeled European Americans, especially since they usurped the land from the original Black Native American Indians? These Europeans came from England to kill and slaughter the original Black Amerindians who were the first people that inhabited North and South America? You don’t call Asian Americans that are citizens of America just Asians. You don’t call Japanese Americans that are citizens of America just Japanese, and you don’t call Mexican Americans that are citizens of America just Mexicans; then why are Black Americans just labeled as Black? Aren’t we citizens of America also?

    By capitalizing the word Black means authority. What color are the robes of the u.s. judges? What color is the motorcade of President Obama? What color are the robes of most graduates and clegry…BLACK! This word should be capitalized because it refers to a race family that birthed the world. You even stated that humanity began in Africa, therefore EVERYBODY came from the Black race.

    Finally, I feel if white America has a problem with this word being capitalized, they should go back to the bible and see how the word lucifer is capitalized throughout this book. If a devil can have his name capitalized, why not the word Black?

    Food for thought this BLACK history month from a future writer. Please reply and hope Jan is reading this.

    • YOUR A DOUCHE

    • Johny Gwuen

      Why aren’t white Americans labeled European Americans?

      I have a much different reason why, but oyu wouldn’t buy it. But I am a European American. Thanks.

      • Luke Visconti

        It’s an imprecise term. People who immigrated from Europe know which country their ancestors come from. I’ve seen European-American used by White Supremacists, however. You’re not one of those, are you? Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • This article blatantly shows the disrespect and distain the the multi-culturalist have for white Americans. Amazing that Black and white is ok but black and White is not.
    Try this on for size…black and white, Black and White. white and black, White and Black. Funny how those who sell “sensitivity” are the least sensitive. You are blind to your own bigotry.

  • I’m the last person to suggest that language and social beliefs/policy are not related, but isn’t there a place for cold logic on occasion when coming grammatical decisions that make sense and are easily understood and followed? These are both words used to (for better or worse) categorize and define a group of people by the end the monochromatic spectrum to which they are nearest. Capitalizing one and not the other may be culturally sensitive but also nonsensical. Our language’s current standards of capitalization call for capitals at the start of sentences and for proper names and a handful of other circumstances. Capitals, outside of textspeak) are generally understood to mean something is specific rather than necessarily important. Capitalization is certainly not guarantee of power or influence. (To the previous commenter: Judges’ robes and limos are black in quite a difference sense from African Americans. I’ve never seen a person the color of a judge’s robe, just as, aside from albinos, I’ve never seen a person the color of a blank piece of paper. Also, Lucifer is capitalized in the Bible because it is the name of an individual, not because that individual is good in any way) Names of groups, unless they are specific or organized groups, are not capitalized. Our society has many, many rules with racist connotations. This is not one of them. If we capitalize black, should we capitalize the other words for ethnic groups based on gross generalizations of the color wheel, such as yellow and red? While admitting that we must fail, let us still strive for objectivity and plainspokenness without prejudice or favor.

  • I so appreciate this discussion and the cultural significance of descriptors. Even though I look “white” because of my skin color, I intentionally refer to myself as Black American. I’m mixed race with my biological father being Black and German and my mother being Polish American. In the late 1950′s, I was adopted as an infant. Back in those days “a drop of colored blood, meant you were “Black.” Hence, I was fortunate enough to be adopted by a Black family since Catholic Charities could not place me with any willing white family. And then, having grown up during the 60′s and early 70′s at the height of the Black Pride and Power Movement, I became even more conscious and sensitive about my decision to proudly refer to myself as Black American.

    Bottom line, if one wants to build trust early on in a cross-cultural relationship, I believe that it helps immensely to be clear on how you choose to describe yourself racially and ethnically to then safely invite someone else to share their cultural background and preferred descriptors.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a senior Human Resource professional, who happens to be Black, and I always capitalize both Black and White when referring to ethnic/racial groups. To capitalize one and not the other is ridiculous and culturally insensitive.

  • John Lindsay

    “do not believe “white” needs to be capitalized because people in the white majority don’t think of themselves in that way.”

    JL: Although I fully understand your point, both “Black” and “White” should be capitalized.

    What about when other groups are referring to “Whites” in an article, essay, etc.?!

    According to the 5th Edition of the American Psychological Association’s Publication Manual, which is considered the “bible” on the correct way to use grammar, cite sources, etc., both “Black” and “White” should be capitalized.
    (page 68)

    Two, while “Whites” may not “consciously think” of themselves as “Whites” (except when they’re outnumbered at an event), the system of institutional discrimination could not work very well without a solidified group (Whites).

    Hence, while “Whites” may attempt to define themselves as “being of Irish, Scottish, French, etc., descent,” they need to also recognize “how these groups form the melting pot known as ‘Whiteness.’”
    Several colleges across the nation have classes on “Whiteness,” and that’s indeed an excellent idea.

    I’m glad to see the issue of “capitalization of the word Black” being raised.
    I brought this to the attention of my local paper about 4 years ago, but they refused to capitalize Black.
    Now that you’ve written this article, I will forward it to them.

    Thanks,

    John Lindsay

  • I agree with the writer who writes, “If we are all Americans why is the word Black used, without adding American? Why aren’t white Americans labeled European Americans, especially since they usurped the land from the original Black Native American Indians? These Europeans came from England to kill and slaughter the original Black Amerindians who were the first people that inhabited North and South America? You don’t call Asian Americans that are citizens of America just Asians. You don’t call Japanese Americans that are citizens of America just Japanese, and you don’t call Mexican Americans that are citizens of America just Mexicans; then why are Black Americans just labeled as Black? Aren’t we citizens of America also?”

    I also agree with, “Funny how those who sell “sensitivity” are the least sensitive. You are blind to your own bigotry.
    It appears as if you are, as these writers replied justly enough. Nothing further statements are required.
    American Reader!

  • Anonymous

    It is interesting to read the comments on this article; it seems like the most hateful comments were authored by those who are anonymous. If you feel so strongly about your statements, why are you afraid to take ownership of your words? The point of diversity is being able to take ownership of your perspective and for others to respect you for it. If you are unable respectfully disagree, we will never be able to move forward into a world where everyone is able to reach their maximum potential.

  • I was excited when I saw the headline for this story, since I’ve always thought it appropriate to capitalize the word “Black.” However, I was disappointed in Visconti’s argument against capitalizing “White.” I think the two descriptors should be treated equally. The argument against capitalizing “White” makes little sense to me. While it may be true that Whites think less about (or are less often reminded of) their “Whiteness” than Blacks of their “Blackness,” I do think that Whites commonly think of themselves as White in general. While many Whites are able to trace their ancestry, that ancestry may be quite varied. I’m not going to refer to myself as an Irish-Swedish-German-English–American. I guess I’m a European American, or simply White.

  • Anonymous

    If you must refer to my race, I prefer caucasian. And don’t capitalize it or you will offend me.

  • Anonymous

    This is the perfect example hypocrisy.
    You either need to capitize everyone or no one. To not give the same respect to different groups of people is discrimination. But this joker Luke Visconti is the perfect example of all the animals are equal, except are more equal then others.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Visconti, you truly are the one I would refer to as “chilling” and “ignorant”. I hardly see how someone saying that you should capitalize everyone or no one is “ignorant”. Then again, you left-wingers would be perfectly happy giving someone else the farm and then having them kick you off of it and not share anything with you.

    Your opinions are so far left that I am beginning to wonder if you are just trying to get reactions from people. But it’s truly sad that in this day in age people fall for it. It’s really pitiful to see all the black people comment on this article and say how wonderful it is to capitalize black. As a white guy, I capitalize neither black nor white and will continue to do so.

  • Anonymous

    I grew up in NYC. then transferred to the south with my job of 23 years. I became a second class citizen overnight. I applaud your efforts, but as log as hatred is cheaper than diversity-nothing will improve.

    Thank you and good luck, I’ll pass o your link to anyone it might help.

  • Anonymous

    Like many others, this was an interesting conversation. However, perhaps it is “much ado about nothing”. Capitalize, bold print, or even italicize … better to turn our focus to more actionable items to resolve the issues that divide.

  • Can’t understand what all the fuss is about – we don’t relate to one another as “Black A to White B” or vice versa. We’re just people trying to get along and live in this vast world. The importance of “capitalization” is quite lost on me as irrelevant to the larger ability to discourse with one another. I’m not a lable, a thing, a race, or anything other than a human being. Skin “color” and “race” are visible exteriors – not by any means descriptive of the interior – unless “race” and “color” are what an individual chooses as the all-encompassing description of themselves. Let it go – we have less time than we did yesterday to figure this out.

  • Anonymous

    An excellent example proving that racism and discrimination is alive and well in the world. I think we as a species will only evolve and better ourselves if we treat everyone with respect regardless of race, gender, sex and start putting people with the skills in the right places. So I personally think that both or neither should be capitalised.

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